Shermans Tanks In real Life: The Planes of Fame of fame Air Museum
Owning and flying WWII airplanes has been a thing much longer than restoring running tanks, and to this day, WWII aircraft tend to get more attention from Americans than armor or ships. That’s changed a lot over the years, and armor is more popular than ever with collectors, museums and the general public. There are several Tank museums or businesses around the country with running Shermans. The one we are going to talk about today is the Planes of Fame Air Museum, it is legendary in the Warbird world, because it has so many interesting and rare aircraft. It also has a long, history, and saved some amazing planes along the way, and one tank.
The Planes of Fame air museum has been around so long, it surely had a hand it kicking off the interest in Warbirds that has been popular in the United States since WWII. My Dad, a Baby Boomer, loved warbirds, and his love transferred right over to me, and I ran with it buying more books on airplanes, and tanks than he ever did, and I still have them al. When I was a kid, we went to the Reno Air Races, and I probably saw Steve Hinton, the President of Planes of Fame flying a racer. There is something about the roar of a warbird flying by that really gives you a sense of what seeing planes like that filling the sky in the mid-40s must have been like. They have a special sound, and hopefully this is a sound we will hear for decades to come.
Planes of fame got started in the 50s when Ed Maloney started collecting airplanes on a minuscule budget, his museums moved around, but really took root at Chino Airport, where Planes of Fame is to this day. Mr. Maloney had fallen in love with airplanes in high school, and just missed WWII. Shortly after the war he began collecting anything with wings on a shoestring budget for his future airplane museum. He was saddened and disgusted to see the warbirds that helped win WWII unceremoniously melted down for Scrap or for a lucky few to rot away on a remote part of an airport. I know the feeling, it makes me deeply sad to see the piles of P-38s bulldozed off a cliff in the Philippines, because flying them home was a waste of time and money…
By the 60s Ed Maloney had achieved his goal of building a museum and around the same time found a Sherman tank on range on Edwards Air Force base while he was scrounging for B-17 parts. He managed to buy the tank for $1! That’s not even the best part of the story! The Sherman, a very early production M4A1 75 tank, still ran! It had been sitting on Edwards for at least a decade untouched, and they got it running. The tanks interior was not gutted, though some things like the hull ammo boxes had been removed a lot of the important parts were still there. They collected more parts over the years, and serious restoration started in the 80s and continues even now.
Ed died in 2016, and it was a huge loss for the aviation community. Sometimes, when a man with a love for, and a collection of things like airplanes or tanks, when the man passes on, his labor of love dies with him, I know of a least two cases. The Littlefield collection only lasted a few years before his widow grew tired of it and donated it to a great museum on the east coast, but to build a place to keep it they sold most of it off, and now can’t build the new facility because of zoning problems. That wasn’t a worry of Ed Maloney, because PoF is a family affair. Steve Hinton, who took thinks over when Ed passed, has been around the place since he was a kid, and his best friend was Ed’s son. I’m also pretty sure Steve married Ed’s daughter! Planes of Fame lives on, stronger than ever, and with another generation working and flying the planes, I think they have a bright future.
Now you might be wondering how a bunch of airplane people can keep a tank working, but trust me, they have guys there who can keep an F4U-1 Corsair, with a magnificent Pratt and Whitney R-2800 running, they can figure out a simple Sherman. The nice thing about a Tank is it handles the weather a lot better than an Airplane, though being stored outside unprotected still isn’t good for them. The Sherman in particular has some very sturdy components, and more often than not, if the powertrain remained sealed up, even after decades on the firing range, if it didn’t get penetrated, they rarely needed much work to be operational again. The engines are a bit less robust, but in a nice warm dry environment, they could last a surprising amount of time as well.
Currently the Planes of Fame M4A1 is about 50% complete, and they restore a little more every year, as money and parts allow. I’m sure in some cases things have to be fabricated. It has a little Joe back auxiliary generator inside, has a working stock electric traverse system, but the stabilizer needs a little more work. The electric firing system works, and though the main gun is de-milled, it can still fire 75mm blanks. A blank firing co-ax M1919 machine gun can be fired with the foot switch, just like the main gun. The intercom is complete and works at all stations, as does all the interior lighting. A place like PoF probably has little trouble keeping the R-975 radial running either.
This summer the turret comes off, new ammo boxes go in and they will complete the interiors restoration. The M4A1 is already a part of their shows, but it is also available to rent, TV, Movies, Weddings, you name it, I could see an M4A1 being a cool addition! I hope to get down there sometimes in the next year or two and check the place out.
If you are in the area and have even the smallest interest in aviation, you owe yourself a trip to Planes of Fame Air Museum in Chino California. The Sherman tank is of course going to see all on its own, but they also have a real Japanese Zero, with its correct engine and it flies! Even crazier? It was used in the Ben Aflack movie Pearl Harbor! Steve did all the flying, but they wouldn’t let him shoot Ben down for real!
Post # 68 The Chieftain’s Hatch does the M4A1, we review it: A great Hatch!
The video comes in two parts.
The subject of the video is Black Magic, a small hatch, late production M4A1 if the turret came on it, though the turret or gun mount could be from other tanks. When it comes to restored Sherman tanks, I think being concerned about matching numbers is not a thing that seems to be worried about, and since it was so well designed and built, parts readily interchange. This sherman started life as a canadian Grizzly, basically totally the same as an M4A1 with an extra small hatch in the hull floor.
This tank has almost all the quick fix upgrades, the extra armor over the hull ammo boxes but lacks the cheek armor on the turret, and the turret may, I can’t tell for sure, have the cast in cheek armor, meaning it almost for sure didn’t come on the hull. It also lacks the armor plates added in front of the driver and co drivers positions, that the Chieftain calls “sheet metal”. It also has some late Sherman stuff, either added by the restorers, or by a depot rebuild later in the tanks life. The spot light, and ‘gun crutch’, or travel lock as normal people use were not on most small hatch shermans. Also the all around vision cupola would not be found on these tanks during WWII.
The Tom Jentz tangent.
The Idea that the Sherman was no more reliable than any other tank, well, I don’t buy it. I like Mr Jentz’s work, and to some degree, his books helped inspire this site, since there was so little info on the web with really detailed info on the Sherman other than the Sherman Minutia site. I don’t think he really knows much about the Sherman if he thinks tanks like Panther and Tiger just needed more spare parts to be as reliable as the Sherman, it is a ridiculous idea. I do not think there was a single part on the Sherman that had a 500 kilometer life span, and that’s double the Panthers final drives.
First:The Chieftain himself has done Hatch posts on reports from the British, about how much more reliable, the M4A4 Sherman was than the Cromwell, even when both had full crews working to keep them running. both tanks were run thousands of miles, something late war German tanks could not do.
Second: Inone of his own Hatches talks about the French experience with the mighty panther showed they averaged 150 kilometers per final drive set! Much less if the crew was hard on them. There was no major automotive component including the oil, that had to be changed every 150 kilometers on any model of Sherman.
Third: This will focus on the Panther, since it was a major part of Germany’s late war armored force, and how terrible it was. This tank didn’t have just one flaw that should have disqualified it for production it had at least five. It was generally poorly reliable across all its automotive components, along with the final drive, 2500 kilometers for the motor and 1500 for the tranny were hugely optimistic and most of these tanks broke down and or were destroyed before they had to refuel. You had to take the whole drivers and co drivers compartment apart and the top of the hull off to change a transmission! Don’t get me started on the weak turret drive system that Rube Goldberg would have loved. The ‘wonderful’ dual torsion bar suspension and interleaved road wheels would cause any maintenance nazi to find the nearest US Line and surrender instead of working on it!
. . .
Another thing to note, you can see the holes drilled vertically in the suspension bogies, these are the tops of the holes the bolts that hold the suspension caps on go into. They were covered up with body filler by the factory, but on most restored and old Shermans the filler is gone, and they don’t fill the holes.
Note: the odd groove in the center of the rear Hull casting, this wasn’t done on all M4A1 tanks, and may have been unique to General Steel castings.
On the problems with the R975, I have not heard of complaints about the engine being easy to blow, and would be very surprised if the throttle wasn’t governed to prevent it. On having to crank the engine before starting, I have it on good authority, that the crew could just start the tank and run it for a few minutes every 45 minutes to an hour to avoid having to hand crank the motor.
Many of units removed the sand shields in ETO to prevent problems with mud.
The Commanders vane site is an early version bolted to a late war vane site pad. The tank has the early style gunner’s periscope. The gunners periscope is missing the linkage going down to the gun. The radio looks like a 528. Note the Armored doors on all the ammo boxes and ready rack. The tank is missing a lot of interior storage, it may have been removed in preparation on shipping the tank out to it’s new owners.
I‘m no expert, but I think the Chieftain confused a .30 cal ammo bin for the 75mm ammo bin right next to his shoulder for the location of an SCR-506, I just can’t see a WWII radio fitting in the tiny box! You can see how sparsely filled the interior is, as issued the tank would be stuffed full of items to help fight it, live with it, or keep it running. The Chieftain shows just how easy even a small hatch Sherman was to get out of, the the Loader was still going to have some issues though. I wish he would have tried the belly hatch out, but maybe it’s welded shut or something.
He covers the small floor hatch on the Grizzly tanks, and you get a nice shot of the early escape hatch. They also show the generator mounted on the rear of the transmission in one of the shots, briefly. You can also see the full turret basket’s mesh screening that separated the turret crew from the hull crew. Part of the quick fix was to cut this all out. I suspect most of the inconsistencies in the tanks details are due to the restoration crew using the Sherman parts they could get their hands on. Very few people would even notice or know it had the wrong commanders hatch, or even whole turret.
A note on the tank, it belonged to a the Military Vehicle Technology Foundation, a fancy name for the collection of a man named Jacques Littlefield. He had a passion for armored vehicles of all types but really liked tanks. He restored many to full functionality, including working main guns and machine guns on some tanks. Owning a working tank cannon is easier than you would think, and far easier than getting the paperwork approved to own machine guns in California, and Jacques Littlefield did both. He employed a restoration crew with world class skills and did some amazing restorations, including a Panther A that was impossibly damaged, but still brought back to life. That Panther was his crowning achievement, and he was a real mover and shaker in the international military vehicle restoration scene, seeing that tank run was one of the last things he achieved, because cancer claimed him shortly after.
The MVTF was supposed to make sure the collection of vehicles, that were a labor of love his whole life, lived on when he passed. Unfortunately the location of the MVTF, Portola California, on a large chunk of very private property, with very limited parking really presented some problem. The collection was used often while it was there, by TV productions like Myth Busters, and was a staple for the Wargaming Staff for their productions, and occasionally opened up to groups of vets, or other interested people. There were other difficulties with the location, and ultimately the collection was donated to the Collings Foundation. They reportedly decided to keep 40 of the most significant vehicles and auction the rest off. The money from the auction was going to be used to build a facility in Stowe Massachusetts, but due to zoning issues, the permits were not provided, leaving the vehicles they did keep in limbo.
I‘m sure the Collings Foundation, a really amazing Charity, they keep many rare WWII aircraft, and cars, including race cars running, has a plan for the rest of the tanks. Their website only lists the Panther in their collection, I hope that doesn’t mean they sold the rest when the museum fell through. That’s not a criticism of the CF, they I’m sure know their business far better than I do, and they really are a top notch group of people. Just browse that site to see the airplanes they’ve gotten flying. The only real B-24 liberatorand a working F-4 Phantom are just two of the notable planes!! If you know anything about aviation, you know just how complicated and expensive keeping an aircraft like a Phantom flying is, especially if you don’t have the resources of the U.S. Navy or Air Force backing you.
I have to say, this is one of the best Chieftain’s hatches they have done. Granted, I’m a tad biased, since it was on the Sherman, well a Grizzly made into a later model small hatch Sherman anyway, and the Chieftain really has gotten pretty good with the Sherman and its sub variants, and even has a book on US WWII TDs on the way.
Civilian Sherman Use: Hollywood, Loggers, Farmers, Museums and Frat Boys
Since the Sherman tank was produced in huge numbers, and the Army didn’t need that many, and even after taking the best for themselves, mothballing the best of the ones they didn’t for use as military aid to struggling allies, they still had a bunch of small hatch M4 tank of various types sitting around. The US Government decided there might be a civilian market for the tanks and put them up for sale as surplus.
It was not just Sherman tanks that would go on sale after the war, actually before the war ended in the case of aircraft. When the war ended the US Government was saddled with so much, now essentially useless, war material, in many cases they just left it to rot where it was sitting. They bulldozed the stuff into ditches or off cliffs, or dumped it into the ocean. That was the fate of most of the war material in the pacific theater. There are heartbreaking photos of P-38 Lighting fighters bulldozed off a cliff in the Philippines.
The war material, tanks, planes, trucks, tools, bulldozers, tug boats, etc. back in the United States would mostly be melted down for scrap, thousands of B-17 and B-24 bombers, P-40s, P-38s, P-47s, you name it, if it flew, it was surplused after the war. Many airlines snapped up the transport planes and cargo planes, but just about all the fighters and bombers got scrapped. For about the price of a nice new car you could have owned any of the fighters, brand new, with full tanks of gas. Many fighters were bought up for use as air racers, or use as surveying aircraft, but at that point in time no one cared enough about them to consider preserving them, with exceptions for particularly historically significant aircraft.
You could buy Shermans in running condition, with the gun DE milled, for about the price of a nice used car. I do not think the Sherman was a hot seller, though a few civilians here and there bought them for the novelty. They did sell to some construction company’s here and there, other companies bought them up in droves, and all the other vehicles that used the Sherman powertrain, and began converting the hulls into specialized equipment used in construction, mining, and forestry. They also one in at least one case sold a Sherman to a college fraternity.
Several companies, Finning, Traxxon, and Morpac made rocking drilling machines based on Sherman hulls, the whole upper hull being replaced by the drill and superstructure. Madill seems to have specialized in converting Sherman hulls into mobile ‘yarders’, a central tower with winches, used to pull freshly cut trees up to an area to be further processed and loaded on trucks. These companies were mostly Canadian, and Morpac is still making heavy duty off road load carriers based on Sherman suspension components.
Vickers used Sherman hulls and suspension to make heavy duty tractors for peanut farming in Africa. These heavy tractors were to be used to clear land for the farms. They only used the suspension, final drives, differentials and tracks, the transmission was different and they used a large inline six for power.
Some power companies used drilling machines based on the Sherman tank as well, but I am not sure if they are the same as the drills made by Finning and Traxxon. In at least one other case a company named Abdo S Allen Co. used a Sherman tank they bought surplus in the 60s as a heavy duty building destroyer. They used the M4A3E8 Sherman, with no dozer blade or anything to knock down large swaths of houses in North West Oakland California in the late 60s. They could be the only destruction company to figure out they could use a tank for demolishing light buildings.
In the 70s things began to change. Interest in World War II started to pick up, and that meant interest in the equipment, so museums for WWII equipment started becoming more popular. The United States has always been interesting in aviation as a people. So WWII aviation was the first thing to really take off. It really started with surplus machines being used as air racers, and then many of the old racers, sitting around rotting, got bought up by men who wanted to own a WWII aircraft. Some of these men founded things like the Confederate Air Force, or the Planes of Fame Museum in Chino. These groups and many more keep aviation history alive by keeping the fantastic old flying machines in the air. It’s amazing that today, there is a larger variety of well restored and rare WWII aircraft flying than when I was a kid in the 70s.
Hollywood made a few movies using somewhat correct airplanes, but most movies until 90s didn’t bother with accuracy in armor, and many of the big screen epics like, The Longest Day, the Battle of the bulge, and Patton, using more modern stand in tanks. A Bridge To Far, broke the mold, and got a lot of running Shermans together, though many not exactly period correct. Kelly’s Heroes was another oddball in that it used real Shermans as well, but their tiger was fake.
As interest in WWII continued to grow, all forms of equipment became popular, and there had already been a few tank guys out there that had a tank or two, or whole collections. Tank museums, most in the US anyway, are owned by the government, and the displays are largely gutted, welded closed near hulks, rusting away in an outdoor display area. It’s not uncommon in Europe for a tank museum to have several runners they bring out for events various times a year for crowd pleasing displays. There are a few museums in the US not owned by the government that are doing this now too. One, at least in the past, I don’t know if it still runs, was the Planes of Fame museum in Chino California, they had a running Sherman they show off at their airshow. The Flying Heritage Collection in Everett, Washington, has a running M4A1 75 and a T-34-85 and do an event where they drive them around on May 30th! This weekend! Battlefield Vegas a huge shooting range in Las Vegas, has a large verity of Machine guns you can shoot and is resto modding a Sherman that they got off a target range. The owner is planning on adding some more modern updates to it, for safety, reliability, and habitability in the Vegas heat. Since the tank was just about at the scrapping point, and I’m for A/C in everything, I see no problems with this at all.
There is also a large group of people, who like to reenact WWII battles, and they collect the vehicles as well, but tanks in this scene are rare. There are small private tank museums that use their tanks in local events like veteran days parades or local airshows. Tanks are a lot easier operate and cheaper to maintain than a WWII airplane, and that may be adding to their popularity and value with collectors as well. Aircraft require all kinds of inspections and certifications, and you have to store them in hangers, and if you don’t fly them regularly they will rot away. Since they fly, not being on top of all the required maintenance might get you killed.
If your tank restoration project breaks down when your testing out the rebuilt Ford GAA, you just fix it there, or have it towed back to your work area. It’s not going to fall out of the sky and possible kill you and other people. In both cases, to really work on it, you need some heavy equipment. You’re not pulling a turret, or motor (tank or plane), without a heavy duty hoist of some type, 10,000 pounds plus minimum, and that might not be enough to get a turret off. Most tank motors the Sherman and other American WWII tanks used are pretty simple as internal combustion engines go, though the R975 radial would be pretty daunting to most car people, even it isn’t that complicated. In both cases they are thoroughly documented, but true experts on the motors who can overhaul them are few and far between, for both tank and aircraft motors.
In the United States, it’s not all that hard, if you’re willing to pay the taxes and go through the government checks, to own a tank with a working canon. Since the tanks were never sold by the government to civilians with working guns, the guns are often pieced together, with parts that don’t match, and this really takes the danger level of owning a tank to a new level. Part of the added danger is the rounds can’t just be purchased, you have to find suitable used brass, not an easy task, and then hand load it with surplus or custom made projectiles and surplus powder. As dangerous as this can be, I’m all for allowing people to do what they want with the things they own, and having a working main gun on your Sherman is pretty damn cool.
Now, these last few paragraphs have had a touch of tongue and cheek in them, owning a tank is a very expensive thing to do, and the bigger the tank the more money it will suck up each year, just less than an airplane. A tank can’t fall out of the sky, but it is by no means safe, and doing any kind of work on it, or even climbing on and off of it, can cost you a finger or broken bones. Putting an arm or hand in the wrong place while a turret is being rotated can get them messily removed. Falling off a tank while it’s moving is a bad way to die, but it happens. It’s hard for people who have never worked with heavy equipment of any kind to realize just how dangerous 30 tons of steel is just sitting still. That said, the people out there restoring WWII history, and keeping it running are awesome. Nothing beats seeing a Sherman tank moving around to really give you an idea of what the thing was all about. The Sherman people who go to the trouble to get the A57 in their M4A4 working are my automotive heroes!
At some point in the 80s some producer or special effects place got their hands on a Sherman and it made appearances in shows like the A-team, Knight Rider and Airwolf. I suspect it was the same M4A3 used in the Movie ‘Tank’ with James Garner, and that is now owned by the Collings Foundation. In more recent years, privately owned tanks, and some working museum vehicles were used in the making of the miniseries Band of Brothers on HBO. They don’t appear in many of the episodes, but they are in at least two. More recently the movie Fury was filmed using the tanks of the Bovington tank Museum in the UK. They also purchased an M4A4 hulk, and did a quickie ‘resto’ on it and made up a fiberglass turret that could be blown off, for the movies to often used ammo rack explosion.
Another thing tanks get used for in civilian life is in ‘Drive a tank’ places like, Ox Ranch in Texas, and driving a tank isn’t the only thing you can do there! Machine guns, Off roading, hunting, tanks, this is like heaven!
There are several other places in the US, and around the world like Drive a Tankin Minnesota and Battlefield Vegas,(Sherman in the works). You can pay for a package that often includes driving several kinds of vehicles leading up to the tank of your choice. They often offer add-ons like shooting machine guns or running over a car you supply, for various fees. The places that have a Sherman usually don’t use it in the car crushing displays; it’s usually a bigger tank like a British chieftain.
The final civilian Sherman type I want to mention is the kind you find in front of VFW halls, or town or state parks. The tanks in these cases are not actually civilian tanks. The Army still owns them more or less, so if the place they are in happens to close down or change, the town or VFW can’t sell the tank. The Army will come and get it, and they are supposedly responsible for keeping them up, but in reality, they are usually pretty rusty on the inside, and often have the floors starting to rust through.